3D printed firearm

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The Liberator 3D-printable single-shot handgun was the first such printable firearm design made widely available online.
The Come and Take It (Folder) flag, a symbol used by 3D-printed gun proponents

A 3D printed firearm is a firearm that is primarily produced with a 3D printer. They can be classified by the type of 3D printers used: plastic (desktop fused filament fabrication), metal (industrial selective laser melting), or both. While plastic ones are usually used as improvised firearms that evade gun control, 3D-printed metal guns are more commonly thought as a way for legitimate gun manufacturers to exceed traditional design limitations.[1]

Although it is possible to create fully-plastic guns, such firearms tend to be extremely short-lived.[2] Instead, it is more practical to print a plastic frame and use metal in the action and the barrel. The metal parts can be self-made or bought in the form of a parts kit.[3][a]

A related issue is the production of 3D-printed parts for conventional firearms. Printed high-capacity magazines circumvent limits on assault weapons, sears weaken the control on fully automatic firearms, and pistol braces challenge the limit on short-barreled rifles.


In 2012, the U.S.-based team Defense Distributed disclosed plans to design a working plastic gun that could be downloaded and reproduced by anybody with a 3D printer.[4][5] Defense Distributed has also designed a 3D printable AR-15 type rifle lower receiver (capable of lasting more than 650 rounds) and a variety of magazines.[6] In May 2013, Defense Distributed completed design of the first working blueprint to produce a plastic gun with a 3D printer. The United States Department of State demanded removal of the instructions from the Defense Distributed (DEFCAD) website, deeming them a violation of the Arms Export Control Act.[7][8] In 2015, Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson sued the United States government on free speech grounds and in 2018 the Department of Justice settled, acknowledging Wilson's right to publish instructions for the production of 3D printed firearms.[9][10]

The legal actions against Defense Distributed has inspired the creation of more decentralized 3D-printed firearm communities, including Deterrence Dispensed and FOSSCAD, in 2019. Participants of these internet-based communities remain anonymous,[11] and are sometimes based in jurisdictions that ban custom gun production.[12][3]

In 2013 a Texas company, Solid Concepts, demonstrated a 3D printed version of an M1911 pistol made of metal, using an industrial 3D printer.[13] In 2014, a New Zealand company, Oceania Defence, demonstrated 3D printed titanium suppressors that are 50% lighter than conventional ones.[1]

The Grizzly is a 3D printed .22-caliber rifle created around August 2013. It was created using a Stratasys Dimension 1200es printer.[14] It was created by a Canadian only known by the pseudonym "Matthew" who told The Verge that he was in his late 20s, and his main job was making tools for the construction industry.[14][15] The original Grizzly fired a single shot before breaking. Grizzly 2.0 fired fourteen bullets before getting damaged due to the strain.[15]

In October 2020, another 3D-printed 9mm rifle known as the "FGC-9" was created. It is reported that it can be made in 2 weeks with $500 of tools. A second model was later made in April 2021.[16]

Effect on gun control[edit]

After Defense Distributed released their plans, questions were raised regarding the effects that 3D printing and widespread consumer-level CNC machining[17][18] may have on gun control effectiveness.[19][20][21][22]

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Joint Regional Intelligence Center released a memo stating "Significant advances in three-dimensional (3D) printing capabilities, availability of free digital 3D printer files for firearms components, and difficulty regulating file sharing may present public safety risks from unqualified gun seekers who obtain or manufacture 3D printed guns," and that "proposed legislation to ban 3D printing of weapons may deter, but cannot completely prevent their production. Even if the practice is prohibited by new legislation, online distribution of these digital files will be as difficult to control as any other illegally traded music, movie or software files."[23]

Internationally, where gun controls are generally tighter than in the United States, some commentators have said the impact may be more strongly felt, as alternative firearms are not as easily obtainable.[24] European officials have noted that producing a 3D printed gun would be illegal under their gun control laws,[25] and that criminals have access to other sources of weapons, but noted that as the technology improved the risks of an effect would increase.[26][27] Downloads of the plans from the UK, Germany, Spain, and Brazil were heavy.[28][29]

Attempting to restrict the distribution over the Internet of gun plans has been likened to the futility of preventing the widespread distribution of DeCSS which enabled DVD ripping.[30][31][32][33] After the US government had Defense Distributed take down the plans, they were still widely available via The Pirate Bay and other file sharing sites.[34] Some US legislators have proposed regulations on 3D printers to prevent their use for printing guns.[35][36] 3D printing advocates have suggested that such regulations would be futile, could cripple the 3D printing industry, and could infringe on free speech rights.[37][38][39][40][41]

Legal status[edit]


In Australia, the state law of New South Wales criminalizes the possession of the digital plans and files to 3D print firearms under Section 51F of the Firearms Act 1996.[42] In one case in 2015, a loaded 3D printed firearm was found during a police raid on a meth lab.[43]

In another case in February 2017, Sicen Sun was arrested on charges related to 3D printable guns. During trial in December 2017 he pleaded guilty to charges including possessing a digital blueprint for the manufacture of firearms, manufacturing a pistol without a licence permit, and possessing an unauthorised pistol. In a sentence hearing on August 6, 2018, he told the court he initially wanted to replicate a gun from the videogame Halo and when he started searching blueprints online he downloaded plans for other guns which looked "cool."[44] Sun had previously posted an advertisement to the internet to sell one of his imitation weapons for "$1 million negotiable" on a Facebook buy, swap and sell group, which set off the investigation.


The Canadian Criminal Code makes it a crime for a person to manufacture (or offer to manufacture) any firearm or ammunition knowing that the person is not authorized to do so under Canadian laws or regulations.[45] Authorizations to manufacture can be obtained, for example, as a capability attached to a firearms business license. The Canadian government moreover has stated that "regardless of manufacturing method, a business licence is required to produce a firearm".[46] At least two separate cases during 2020 have led to charges for 3D printing of firearms.[47][48]


The Halle synagogue shooting gained particular notoriety for the use of improvised firearms by the perpetrator.[3][49] One of the firearms he brought along (though did not use) was a hybrid design where the lower receiver was 3D printed, and he also had 3D printed magazines.[50] He also had manufactured several more 3D printed guns that were not brought along.[51] This sparked questions over the legal status of such firearms, though the consensus in most parties represented in the Bundestag was that no additional legislation would be necessary,[52] as the current German gun law explicitly prohibits the unlicensed manufacture of firearms regardless of method.[53]


3D-printed firearms are subjected to the same laws as typical gunsmithed firearms, only requiring a license, as long as the firearms stay within legal limits. In November 2021, it was reported that in Naples and other areas of Campania, the local Camorra has begun using 3D-printed firearms and ammunition due to ease of access and for selling on to other gangs. This was found out via the discovery of videos and images on a seized IPhone of said firearms.[54]


In Japan, in May 2014, Yoshitomo Imura was the first person to be arrested for possessing printed guns.[55] Imura had five guns, two of which were capable of being fired, but had no ammunition.[55] Imura had previously posted blueprints and video of his Zig zag revolvers to the Internet, which set off the investigation.[56]


The Singaporean government passed a law in January 2021 that made it an offence for anyone in Singapore to possess a digital blueprint of a gun or gun part without a license under the Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Act.[57][58]

United Kingdom[edit]

In the United Kingdom, the Firearms Act 1968 bans the manufacturing of guns and gun parts without government approval.[59] Hence, 3D printed weapons are de facto banned because the law bans all manufacturing, regardless of method. However, the Home Office updated its Guide on Firearms Licensing Law to specifically mention the ban on 3D printed weapons.[60]

In June 2019, Tendai Muswere, aged 26, became the first person in the United Kingdom charged with making a gun with a 3D printer. The firearm in question, which he claims was merely a movie-prop for a dystopian film he was working on, was found during a raid following claims he was growing and selling cannabis. Originally in October 2017, he claimed he was only printing gun-like models, however in February 2018, following another raid, it was found his intentions were to make a working firearm based on his browser history and some working gun components found in his house along with homemade gunpowder.[61][62]

United States[edit]

Under the Undetectable Firearms Act any firearm that cannot be detected by a metal detector is illegal to manufacture, so legal designs for firearms such as the Liberator require a metal plate to be inserted into the printed body. The Act was renewed for five years in 1998, and ten years in 2003 and 2013.[63] The subject of 3D printed guns gained such attention that in 2014, Netflix included it in its documentary "Print the Legend", a film about the significance of 3D printing technology.[64]

The company Defense Distributed, founded by Cody Wilson, started posting 3D-printed gun blueprints on the Internet in 2013. The Obama Administration decided to amend International Traffic in Arms Regulations to include 3D-printed firearms in 2015.[65][66] With these changes in place, the United States Department of State Directorate of Defense Trade Controls ordered Defense Distributed to remove the plans since it was not licensed to export them. Various federal courts ruled in Defense Distributed v. United States Department of State which claimed the regulations violated the First and Second Amendments to the United States Constitution. The State Department settled the case by giving an export license to Defense Distributed, prevailing despite lawsuits from several states to prevent it.

In January 2020, the Trump Administration published a rule change to remove 3D-printed gun blueprints from the munitions list and transfer administrative authority over them to the Commerce Department. A U.S. District judge blocked the rule change on procedural grounds in March 2020,[67] but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling in April 2021.[68] As a result, online posting of plans for 3D-printed firearms now requires a license under the Export Administration Regulations issued by the Bureau of Industry and Security.[69]

Laws related to the manufacture, sale, and possession of firearms generally apply to 3D-printed firearms. Some state and local laws apply more specifically to 3D-printed guns:

  • California requires (under a 2018 law) homemade guns to have a small piece of stainless steel embedded, with a serial number issued by the California Justice Department, and regulations with regard to safety classes and background checks apply.[70]
  • Massachusetts bans "concealed" weapons which cannot be found with metal detectors or which resemble other objects.[71]
  • New Jersey restricts manufacturing of 3D-printed guns and distributions for blueprints to licensed firearm manufacturers.[70] In 2018, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal sent a cease and desist letter to Defense Distributed ordering it not to distribute its plans to people in New Jersey. The company sued on First Amendment grounds; as of March 2021, the case Defense Distributed v. Gurbir Grewal had been remanded to a district court after higher courts settled jurisdictional issues.[72]
  • Philadelphia banned the manufacture and possession of 3D-printed firearms in November 2013.[70]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In the United States, the firearm's identity is defined by its receiver (frame). Just printing a frame creates a "firearm" in the legal definition.
  1. ^ a b New Zealand leads the way in Titanium Additive Manufacturing, Metal Additive Manufacturing, May 12, 2014. (archive)
  2. ^ Mearian, Lucas (May 30, 2014). "Lab tests show 3D printed guns can be useless -- and dangerous". Computerworld. Defense Distributed has demonstrated its Liberator 3D printed gun successfully. The gun, however, has a limited lifespan, and it typically fails after eight to 10 shots.
  3. ^ a b c Kelly, Kim (August 23, 2020). "The 3D-Printed Gun Isn't Coming. It's Already Here". GEN. Medium.
  4. ^ Greenberg, Andy (August 23, 2012). "'Wiki Weapon Project' Aims To Create A Gun Anyone Can 3D-Print At Home". Forbes. Retrieved August 27, 2012.
  5. ^ Poeter, Damon (August 24, 2012). "Could a 'Printable Gun' Change the World?". PC Magazine. Retrieved August 27, 2012.
  6. ^ Farivar, Cyrus (March 1, 2013). ""Download this gun": 3D-printed semi-automatic fires over 600 rounds". Ars Technica. Retrieved February 5, 2015.
  7. ^ "Blueprints for 3-D printer gun pulled off website". www.statesman.com. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  8. ^ "Defense Distributed v. United States Department of State". harvardlawreview.org. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  9. ^ Kopel, David (July 10, 2018). "US government drops prohibition on files for 3D printed arms". Reason.com. Archived from the original on July 13, 2018. Retrieved July 13, 2018.
  10. ^ Greenberg, Andy (July 10, 2018). "A Landmark Legal Shift Opens Pandora's Box for DIY Guns". Wired.com. Archived from the original on July 10, 2018. Retrieved July 13, 2018.
  11. ^ Hanrahan, Jake (May 20, 2019). "3D-printed guns are back, and this time they are unstoppable". Wired UK.
  12. ^ Weingarten, Dean (November 26, 2020). "Illegal 3D Printed Guns in Europe by Popular Front (Video)". AmmoLand.com.
  13. ^ Gross, Doug (November 9, 2013). "Texas company makes metal gun with 3-D printer". CNN. Retrieved November 9, 2013.
  14. ^ a b "First 3-D printed rifle fires bullet, then breaks". NBC News. Retrieved May 24, 2021.
  15. ^ a b Franzen, Carl (August 4, 2013). "World's first 3D-printed rifle gets update, fires 14 shots". The Verge. Retrieved May 24, 2021.
  16. ^ "ATF's Proposed Rules Threaten a Legal Mess but No End to Ghost Guns". Reason.com. May 14, 2021. Retrieved May 24, 2021.
  17. ^ "3D Printers, Meet Othermill: A CNC machine for your home office (VIDEO)". Guns.com. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  18. ^ Clark (October 6, 2011). "The Third Wave, CNC, Stereolithography, and the end of gun control". PopeHat.com.
  19. ^ Rosenwald, Michael S. (February 25, 2013). "Weapons made with 3-D printers could test gun-control efforts". Washington Post.
  20. ^ "Making guns at home: Ready, print, fire". The Economist. February 16, 2013. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  21. ^ Rayner, Alex (May 6, 2013). "3D-printable guns are just the start, says Cody Wilson". The Guardian. London.
  22. ^ Manjoo, Farhad (May 8, 2013). "3-D-printed gun: Yes, it will be possible to make weapons with 3-D printers. No, that doesn't make gun control futile". Slate.com. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  23. ^ "Homeland Security bulletin warns 3D-printed guns may be 'impossible' to stop". Fox News. May 23, 2013. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  24. ^ Cochrane, Peter (May 21, 2013). "Peter Cochrane's Blog: Beyond 3D Printed Guns". TechRepublic. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  25. ^ Gilani, Nadia (May 6, 2013). "Gun factory fears as 3D blueprints put online by Defense Distributed | Metro News". Metro.co.uk. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  26. ^ "Liberator: First 3D-printed gun sparks gun control controversy". Digitaljournal.com. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  27. ^ "First 3D Printed Gun 'The Liberator' Successfully Fired - IBTimes UK". Ibtimes.co.uk. May 7, 2013. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  28. ^ "US demands removal of 3D printed gun blueprints". neurope.eu. Archived from the original on October 30, 2013. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  29. ^ "España y EE.UU. lideran las descargas de los planos de la pistola de impresión casera | Economía | EL PAÍS". Economia.elpais.com. May 9, 2013. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  30. ^ "Controlled by Guns". Quiet Babylon. May 7, 2013. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  31. ^ "3dprinting | Jon Camfield dot com". Joncamfield.com. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  32. ^ "State Dept Censors 3D Gun Plans, Citing 'National Security' - News from Antiwar.com". News.antiwar.com. May 10, 2013. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  33. ^ "Wishful Thinking Is Control Freaks' Last Defense Against 3D-Printed Guns - Hit & Run". Reason.com. May 8, 2013. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  34. ^ "The Pirate Bay steps in to distribute 3-D gun designs". Salon.com. May 10, 2013. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  35. ^ "Sen. Leland Yee Proposes Regulating Guns From 3-D Printers « CBS Sacramento". Sacramento.cbslocal.com. May 8, 2013. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  36. ^ "Schumer Announces Support For Measure To Make 3D Printed Guns Illegal « CBS New York". Newyork.cbslocal.com. May 5, 2013. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  37. ^ Ball, James (May 10, 2013). "US government attempts to stifle 3D-printer gun designs will ultimately fail". The Guardian. London.
  38. ^ "Like It Or Not, 3D Printing Will Probably Be Legislated". TechCrunch. January 18, 2013. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  39. ^ Beckhusen, Robert (February 15, 2013). "3-D Printing Pioneer Wants Government to Restrict Gunpowder, Not Printable Guns | Danger Room". Wired.com. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  40. ^ "How Defense Distributed Already Upended the World - Philip Bump". The Atlantic Wire. May 10, 2013. Archived from the original on June 7, 2013. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  41. ^ Putrich, Gayle S. (May 13, 2013). "Plastic gun draws eyes to 3-D printing". European Plastics News. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013.
  42. ^ New South Wales Legislation. "Section 51F of Firearms Act 1996 (NSW)". New South Wales legislation. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  43. ^ "Mudgeeraba acreage raided, 3D-printed gun and drug lab allegedly found". ABC News AU. Retrieved November 15, 2016.
  44. ^ Mitchell, Georgina (August 6, 2018). "'Silly, naive': Fanboy faces jail over 3D-printed guns". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  45. ^ s.99 of the Criminal Code
  46. ^ "Canadians could face prison time for making 3D-printed guns: officials". Global News.
  47. ^ McKendrick, Devon (June 9, 2020). "Winnipeg police make first ever seizure of 'ghost guns' in city; one man arrested". CTVNews.ca.
  48. ^ "Charges laid in 3D-printed 'ghost guns' case believed to be a first in province". CBC News. September 3, 2020.
  49. ^ Halle (Saale): Stephan Balliet bereitete Tat seit Monaten vor. Spiegel online, October 14, 2019. Retrieved November 9, 2019 (in German).
  50. ^ Tousignant, Chloe. "Luty Sub-machine Guns: past, present & future". The Hoplite. Armament Research Services (ARES). Retrieved October 16, 2020.
  51. ^ "Use of 3D printed guns in German synagogue shooting must act as warning to security services, experts say". The Independent. October 11, 2019. Archived from the original on October 11, 2019.
  52. ^ "Aus dem 3D-Drucker: Muss das Waffenrecht geändert werden?" Tagesschau, October 17, 2019. Retrieved November 9, 2019 (in German).
  53. ^ See Waffengesetz (WaffG), Section 4, § 51.
  54. ^ "La camorra diventa hi-tech: «Armi stampate in 3d»". Stylo24 - Ultime Notizie su Napoli e la Campania (in Italian). November 9, 2021. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  55. ^ a b "Japanese Man Arrested For Printing His Own Revolvers".
  56. ^ "Japanese man arrested for possessing 3-D printer guns". Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  57. ^ "Owning digital plans to 3D-print guns without licence to be made a crime after new Bill passed". CNA.
  58. ^ "Parliament: Replica weapons excluded from new law to regulate guns, explosives and weapons". The Straits Times. January 5, 2021.
  59. ^ UK Legislation. "Firearms Act 1968". UK Legislation. Retrieved November 15, 2016.
  60. ^ UK Home Office. "Guide on Firearms Licensing Law" (PDF). UK Government. UK Home Office. Retrieved November 15, 2016.
  61. ^ "Tendai Muswere: Student first to be convicted of making 3D-printed gun". Sky News. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  62. ^ "London student convicted for making gun using 3D printer". The Guardian. June 19, 2019. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  63. ^ The most recent extension, to expire in 2023, is An Act to extend the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 for 10 years.
  64. ^ Netflix (September 9, 2014). "Print the Legend Official Trailer [HD] Netflix". YouTube. Retrieved October 2, 2019.
  65. ^ US Government Proposes ITAR Amendments to Choke off Distribution of 3D Printable Gun Models
  66. ^ Blueprints for 3D-printed guns banned online
  67. ^ "Judge Blocks White House Bid for Online 3D-Printed Gun Blueprints". courthousenews.com. March 9, 2020. Retrieved April 28, 2021.
  68. ^ "Ninth Circuit Lifts Ban on 3D-Printed Gun Blueprints". courthousenews.com. April 27, 2021. Retrieved April 28, 2021.
  69. ^ FAQs for the Commerce Categories I-III (final rule)
  70. ^ a b c State and Local Laws Regulating 3D-Printed Guns
  71. ^ 3D gun printing is illegal in Massachusetts, Attorney General Maura Healey says
  72. ^ "BREAKING: Supreme Court Denies New Jersey Cert in Defense Distributed v. Grewal". March 29, 2021.

External links[edit]